Excitedly looking ahead to next season, Lax.com perused the schedules of every DI men’s lacrosse team to see which contests we anticipate being the year’s most compelling. While obviously conference tourneys always have juice, and the NCAA Tournament should provide some memorable moments, here are 11 (we threw in an extra for good measure) games we think all lacrosse fans should pencil in now.
#11 Denver @ Syracuse – Friday, February 19
For starters, it’s about the first match-up of good teams in the 2010 season. While Delaware might usher in the spring on Feb. 6 (@ St. Joe’s), this game will announce the coming season as it pits the two biggest stories from 2009 head-to-head. Denver has never played in the Carrier Dome, and new coach Bill Tierney is setting a tone for his program by starting off against the two-time defending national champs. Syracuse will not be able to treat this like an early season tune-up game if they want their campaign for a third-straight title to start off with a win. Kudos to Coach John Desko and Coach Tierney for scheduling this one early.
#10- Virginia @ Cornell- Saturday, March 13
Cornell was hit hard by graduation; almost as hard as the beat-down they gave Virginia in last year’s Final Four. While it will be a long trip north for the Cavaliers, it will be an even longer trip south if they can’t pull off a win in this one. Surely the veterans on Virginia have had this circled for a while, seething at the chance for not only redemption, but perhaps retribution. Don’t count out Cornell though. The Big Red always has players waiting in the wings, avoiding the pitfalls of graduation. Winning a game in Schoellkopf Field in the typically blustery March that befalls Ithaca may come down to sheer toughness.
#9 UNC @ Johns Hopkins – Saturday, April 3
The battle of the powder blues. The Tar Heels have had the Jays card, beating them three years running, but last year’s duel was a thriller with UNC snagging the win in overtime. The game comes back to Homewood this year. This will be a big test for Coach Joe Breschi’s young defense against the talented, veteran Hopkins attack.
#8 Princeton @ Harvard- Saturday, April 24
So there is the obvious: The game is the second-to-last Ivy League contest both teams play, which means it will have major implications on Ivy League standings, as well as a potential NCAA tourney bid. Now here is the not so obvious: Despite the reputation of Ivy lacrosse being slow, methodical, and defense heavy, these two teams played one of the most exciting games we got to see last season ( HYPERLINK "http://www.lax.com/story.phtml?story=2297" http://www.lax.com/story.phtml?story=2297). Both teams went on runs, and the pace was frenetic at times, with either offense rushing the length of the field just to rip a quick shot and then see the ball come right back down the other end. Now with Harvard’s young team a year older, and the Tigers allegedly incorporating a more wide-open offense, this battle of academic giants could become a shoot-out. Did I really just say that?
#7 Johns Hopkins @ Loyola- Saturday, May 8
True, Hopkins has owned this one, winning every match-up this decade, but the game always seems to have some extra element. Being the last regular season contest for both teams, serious playoff implications are on the line. Last year’s 11-10 2OT nail biter launched Hopkins securely into the NCAA Tournament, leaving the Greyhounds on the outside looking in. If that game goes the other way, Loyola almost surely gets in with perhaps the Jays missing their first postseason in ages. Throw in the fact that it’s one of the last meaningful regular season games of the year, and that it’s a cross town rivalry, and this game is of consequence for more than just those who live in Baltimore.
#6 Duke @ Virginia- Saturday, April 17
Last April, Virginia looked like the odds on favorite to win a national title. Then came Duke, who twice dominated the Cavaliers, once in the regular season, and once in the ACC Tournament. Now Duke is a popular preseason pick to win it all, but Virginia should be right there with them. The Blue Devils have had UVa’s number ever since 2005, but might this be the year UVa can take their pride and hubris back from the conference foe?
#5 Cornell @ Princeton- Saturday, May 1
OK, so if you love fast-paced, up-and-down action, this might not be the game for you. But if you like tightly contested games, players pouring out effort, and a potential league championship on the line, then keep your eyes out for this one. The teams have split the past 10 regular season meetings right down the middle, with Cornell adding a quarterfinal win over the Tigers last year (a rare season with two victories over Princeton for the Big Red). Both teams are so familiar with each other it often takes a lucky break or an incredible individual effort for one unit to pull away. With the addition of the Ivy League Tournament this season, this game might not determine a conference champ like it does most years. Still, Princeton and Cornell players know this is the biggest game of their seasons.
#4 Syracuse @ Cornell- Tuesday, April 13
Nothing like a night game in Upstate New York, where even in April there could be a chill in the air with the potential for a little lake-affect snow. While this game tends to be one worth watching because of the traditions and close geography of both programs, it will have some extra poignancy this year. Redemption and revenge seem to be a theme this season. Cornell will have waited nearly a year to get another crack at those last 30 seconds and the Orange.
#3 Virginia @ Maryland- Saturday, April 3
The longest game in NCAA DI men’s lacrosse history. Seven overtimes. The goal that wasn’t a goal. A national television audience. A big-time conference rivalry. Two goalies standing on their heads to keep their respective teams in it. If this game plays out half as excitingly as it did last year, it will still be too much for those with pacemakers to witness. If it plays out even better than last year, ESPN will have to designate a new channel for it.
#2 UNC @ Duke- Wednesday, March 10
While Duke might be the preseason team with all the hype, no one should sleep on UNC. In his first year at the helm, Coach Breschi got the Tar Heels to within one goal of the Final Four, a place once familiar to UNC. With another recruiting class under his belt and a resurgence of bravado in the program, Carolina could assert itself in the ACC this year. However, they will need to do so by beating the Blue Devils early. Duke put down the Heels three times last season though. As if these two programs don’t already have enough reasons to hate each other.
#1 Syracuse @ Virginia- Sunday, March 7
Sure it might be the easy pick, but that doesn’t make it the wrong one. What isn’t to like about this rivalry? Two programs that absolutely bring it when they play each other in what is typically a tightly contested display of firepower. The stats on this match up are absurd. The Orange and Cavaliers have played 13 times in the past ten years, with UVa leading the series 7-6, but two of those ‘Cuse wins came as double-overtime Final Four victories, propelling the Orange to eventual national championships in 2008 and 2002. Virginia has a Final Four win in there too, en route to its dominant 2006 title. Over those 13 games, the teams have scored a combined 336 goals, or about 26 goals a game. Seven games have been decided by only a goal. Nine were decided by no more than three goals. No wonder so many people come out to the Carrier Dome or Klockner Stadium for this one. Without seeing a minute of action for either team yet, you already know this game is not to be missed.
3/13-Johns Hopkins @ Hofstra – Saturday, March 13
The Pride love to play spoiler to Hopkins. The connections run deep between programs too. Seth Tierney left his assistant coaching gig at Hopkins to head Hofstra’s program. Andrew Gvozden will have to trade saves with his older brother Michael to thwart the Blue Jays here.
3/20- Maryland @ UMBC – Saturday, March 20
A battle pitting state schools always leaves room for some jocular boasting. While UMBC is usually treated like the redheaded stepchild in Maryland, the Retrievers have beaten the Terps two-years running. One program tends to over achieve, while the other tends to underachieve. This game will help determine which is which.
4/11- Notre Dame @ Georgetown- Sunday, April 11
One of what will hopefully become many interesting conference match ups sparked by the new Big East. Both teams boast athletic, strong defensemen and a knack for being snubbed by the selection committee.
4/17 Army v Navy @ M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Saturday, April 17
This would have easily made my top ten list if not for the fact that it’s held at a neutral site. Sorry, but settings and fans factor in. Why would you leave the beauty of Navy-Marine Memorial Corp Stadium, or the stately façade of Michie Stadium? Isn’t Baltimore really a home game for one team here anyway?
4/24 Hopkins @ Navy- Saturday, April 24
This game is usually closer than the final score suggests. The atmosphere couldn’t be better, regardless of where it is played. Homewood Field or Navy Marine Corp Stadium, you can’t go wrong with either. Like it is said every season since the ‘60’s, maybe this is the year Navy gets over the hill and defeats Hopkins.
#11-Syracuse @ Notre Dame- Saturday, May 1
Another potential gem of a rivalry brought to us by the new Big East, these two teams have met only three times in the past decade, with the Orange walking away with each contest. But their NCAA quarterfinal game in 2008 was a tightly contested 11-9 ‘Cuse win, and Notre Dame’s usually solid defense should fair well against an Orange offense hit heavily by graduation, again. This will be a fun rivalry to watch grow.